A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to photograph the morning service at Beth Shalom temple in Squirrel Hill. As part of my “Communities” project, I would like to document as many different Pittsburgh communities as I possibly can. That being said, I have special interest in the Jewish community. Having grown up in the Soviet Union, religion has always been a taboo topic at home or at school. Also, given the ever-present antisemitism, I did not find out that I were Jewish until I was 12. I’ve been learning more about my heritage and culture in the recent years thanks to my kids, but having an opportunity to observe and document a religious service was a welcome experience. Many thanks to Rabbi Adelson and the Congregation Beth Shalom community for welcoming me.
A few days ago I had the privilege to photograph Stuart Day at his Allentown shop for my “Communities” project.
Stuart Day has been working in high end lutherie for over a decade; he is formally trained in the construction, repair and period correct restoration of all stringed instruments. He’s gained notoriety in north America, Japan and some parts of Europe for his hand crafted acoustic arch top and flat top steel string guitars and offers professional level repair and restoration services out of his shop in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
When I was a kid, I spent 4 or 5 summers in a row in a small village near a Ukrainian town of Korosten’. My grandfather and I would get on a train or a bus from my hometown of Gomel and take a 6-hour trip to his friend’s farm. Pavel and Galina (my grandfather’s friends) had a small apple orchard and raised goats and rabbits. To a kid a place like that was a paradise. I spent my days swimming in the river, hiking, roasting potatoes on a bonfire and goofing off with local village kids. I never wondered who Pavel and Galina really were and how they know my grandfather.
This past weekend my mom asked me put together a book of old photographs as a present for my grandmother. As we were going through a pile of old photographs, I came across the photograph below:
In the back, my grandfather is on the left and my grandmother is right next to him. In the front row, the two people sitting down are Pavel and Galina.
As we started talking about people in this photograph, I asked my mom how my grandfather met Pavel and Galina. As it turned out, like with most of my grandfather’s friends, he met Pavel in Vorkuta GULAG. Unlike his other friends, Pavel was not an inmate – as it turned out he was a guard at Vorkuta Mine #7 labor camp. He was one of the good guys and from what my grandmother and my mom told me he saved quite a few lives.
It’s been almost 10 years since Pavel passed away; Galina passed away 2 years ago. I was absolutely shocked and amazed that I had known these people since childhood and had no idea about their relationship with my grandfather.
Who knows what else I find out in the next few days…
This man’s name was Gherman. He used to visit my grandfather a few times a year, and I always looked forward to his visits. He had encyclopedic knowledge of pretty much everything; he spoke German, French, English and Yiddish; best of all, he was as obsessed with photography as I was. Years later, after I immigrated to the United States, I found out that Gherman spent 15 years in GULAG. He met my grandfather in 1947 at Mine 7 in Vorkuta where my grandfather saved his life when Gherman’s right arm was torn off by heavy machinery.
When I began to research my grandfather’s life, I found out that Gherman immigrated to Israel shortly after I moved to the United States. I called him and we talked for almost 4 hours. He told me about GULAG camps and about my grandfather. He sent me a 35-page handwritten letter with first hands accounts of his life in Soviet labor camps.
Yesterday I found out from my grandmother that Gherman passed away a few weeks ago. He was the last of my grandfather’s friends who were in prison camps with him. When I heard the news, I cried. Rest in peace…
As a photographer I constantly search for inspiration. For me, inspiration does not necessarily come from other photographers’ exceptional work; often my inspiration does not even come from the realm of art. A few days ago, while browsing Vimeo I came across a short video titled “The Knife Maker“. It has nothing to do with photography, but for some reason it resonated with me enough that I felt compelled to share it.
Dark Side of The Lens
And even though I could not embed this last one, “The President’s Photographer” is definitely worth watching!
Yesterday I met with a client whose last name is Jablowski. For some reason, on the drive home after the meeting, I could not get that name out of my head; something about seemed important, but I could not quite grasp what it was. As I was pulling into my driveway I finally got it. It was a Polish last name and letter “J” reads as “Ye” or “Ya”. During all the years of searching for information about my grandfather I always searched archives and databases for “Payes”, “Paes”, or it`s Russian spelling “Паес”. It has never even occurred to me that since he was born in Grodno and since before the World War II Grodno belonged to Poland, my grandfather`s last name might be spelled differently. To test my theory I pulled up the Ellis Island database and searched for Pajes. I have records of my grandfather`s family that were kindly send to me two years ago by Rabbi Yitzchak Kofman from Grodno, Belarus, but they were in Russian. Now I actually know for a fact that part of my grandfather`s family came to the United States on October 12, 1923 and even have ship`s manifests from Berengaria that document their passage from Cherbourg, France and arrival to Ellis Island.